A.C. Green preaches what he practices

February 20, 2008 at 10:55 am Leave a comment

Source: Christianity Today

Spotting the Los Angeles Lakers’ A.C. Green ,Jr. at the 1999-2000 NBA finals with the Indiana Pacers was easy. When he wasn’t on the court, he was the tall guy with the green bear on his head.

The bear, affectionately known as Little A.C. (the initials are embroidered in yellow), sports a message on his back: I’ve got the power.

During the series, the Lakers, with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, showed their power by defeating the Pacers in six games, the team’s first NBA championship since 1988. Green collected championship ring number three (along with 1987 and 1988), all with the same franchise that had drafted him in 1985.

Green’s most recent team was the Miami Heat, his fourth team in a long career. At the beginning of the 2001-2002 season, Green, 38, announced his retirement. But his tenure in the NBA, thanks in part to his physical endurance, should keep his Ironman title secure for years to come. Green has been in so many consecutive games since 1986 that the number escapes him (it’s close to 1,200).

The slogan I’ve got the power could be describing Green’s athletic strength. Actually, it sums up Green’s life. The power he relies on comes from God, as the Portland native lives every day for Jesus Christ.

And the initials A.C. on the bear? Abstinence committed. For Green, still single, it’s doing what the Bible says. For the young people in countless public school assemblies Green addresses each year, or those who participate in his annual basketball/leadership camps, it’s all about good decisions.

Been there, but not done that

At a high school assembly Green deftly fields the answers from high school students to his question, “What is safe sex?
Safe sex is taking extra birth control pills.
Safe sex is having one partner who feels the same way as you do. You don’t play around.
Safe sex is using as many condoms as you need to put on.
Any sexual activity is risky. No sex is the only safe sex.

Green welcomes the varied responses and the opportunity to present another message to students: being abstinent is being responsible.

He remembers his high school days, bragging in the locker room with basketball teammates about his sexual exploits. Feeling peer pressure, Green wanted to portray himself as a man’s man, and sexual activity seemed part of the persona. The truth was, none of Green’s stories were true.

He was—and remains—a virgin. He’s thankful for that fact. “Today young people are being bombarded with sexual messages,” he says. “What I emphasize in my presentations is the importance of making good decisions, decisions that will affect each of their tomorrows. Abstinence is one of those good decisions.”

Growing up in a church-going family, Green was confident that he and God were on okay terms, even when he stopped attending church regularly. His relationship with God just wasn’t anything personal. Life revolved around basketball and hanging with his brothers and best friend, Lee Johnson.

The summer after graduation, a group of friends invited Green on a weekend road trip to visit a former high school teacher, Rod Bragato and his wife, Karen. Green knew that the Bragatos were Christians, and he enjoyed their company. That Sunday the students accompanied their hosts to church.

The question he couldn’t shake

“Do you want to go to heaven, or do you want to go to hell?” Green couldn’t shake off the question that the preacher was basing his sermon on that morning. Suddenly, he knew he wasn’t okay with God. He was a sinner in need of forgiveness and a new direction.

One of the first things that happened was God gave me a desire to read the Bible. I never wanted to read it before. But now I wanted to find out all I could about Jesus. I also realized that I needed to get back to church,” Green says. The 17-year-old who was headed to Oregon State University cleaned up his language and began “to think less about myself and more about other people.”

“One of the first things that happened was God gave me a desire to read the Bible. I never wanted to read it before. But now I wanted to find out all I could about Jesus. I also realized that I needed to get back to church,” Green says. The 17-year-old who was headed to Oregon State University cleaned up his language and began “to think less about myself and more about other people.”

At OSU, Green met Greg Ball, a former football player turned evangelist who was holding a week long revival. Ball became one of the freshman’s spiritual mentors. Within a few weeks, Green’s best friend, Lee Johnson, accepted Christ at one of Ball’s meetings. As more college students responded to the gospel, a Bible study group formed, eventually becoming a church pastored by David Elian.

Green grew physically (“I started college at 6’8-1/2” and was over 6’9” by the time I joined the NBA”), academically (“I didn’t want to get through college solely on my basketball skills”), and spiritually (“I wanted to show people what the power of God could do for a person”).

Soon after becoming a Christian, Green started a regular devotional time. He didn’t want to just read God’s word, he wanted to memorize it.

The discipline continues to this day. Even during his career, the demands of training, practicing, and playing time weren’t excuses for Green to slack off. He routinely got up at 5 a.m. to spend a good hour with God before his basketball day began. Green’s near-perfect attendance at NBA chapels provided a spiritual boost. And he’s always glad to be home to worship at Morning Star Church in Los Angeles.

Not the real world

Green’s faith and moral stand has been no secret to his teammates. “They respected me and were curious about how I [remain abstinent]. They asked me privately or threw questions at me in the locker room.”

In the 12/9/99 Sports Illustrated, columnist Rick Reilly dubbed Green “The NBA Player Who Has Never Scored.” Green admits that he’s not immune from sexual temptation. But he maintains his integrity with the help of friends in Champions for Christ and others who keep him accountable and focused on his godly commitment.

“They keep me in line so much that I’m sure there have been temptations waiting around the corner that thankfully I’ve never known about.”

As Green told Reilly, “I promised God this, and I’m not going to break it. I love myself and my future wife too much to just waste it.”

His actions didn’t go unnoticed. Last season, teammate Anthony Mason, who had off-court troubles, began to pay attention to Green’s spiritual leadership more. In the Miami Herald last January, Mason said, “You would think of Green as a goody-two-shoes, but to see [his convictions] up close, you realize that’s the way you’re supposed to live.”

Green has had the thrill of leading a teammate to Christ, but more often he has helped them work through specific issues in their lives. And, even in retirement, he’ll always be available to pray.

Helping young athletes

In 1985, Green ran his first basketball camp for kids with his high school coach, Dick Gray. Four years later, he formed the A.C. Green Foundation for Youth to help at-risk youth recognize and achieve their full potential. Emphasizing self-esteem, integrity, and character, the principles are the heart of Green’s abstinence curriculum “I’ve Got the Power” (currently being implemented in more than 100 schools and organizations nationwide). They are also covered in the three camps that Green runs each summer in Portland, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. More than 5,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 15 have participated.

God expects us to reproduce in others what we have learned,” Green says in his book, Victory: The Principles of Championship Living (Creation House), written with J.C. Webster. He feels called to be a mentor. Watching his game face with an NBA opponent or one of his young competitors, there is a definite difference. Green looked intensely formidable on the pro court; with the youngsters, his countenance lights up.

My job on the basketball court is to take the point away from my rival; with the kids, I’m trying to give them something.” His work with youth earned him induction into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame last September, along with Wimbledon tennis finalist Andrea Jaeger and four-time Olympic speed skating gold medalist, Johann Koss.

But Green isn’t done yet. In October, his foundation expanded their www.acgreen.com internet presence with www.ClubAC.com, an interactive site for youth. The primary focus is on sexual abstinence, but the advice also applies to drugs and alcohol, too—anything that might prevent a pre-teen or teenager to reach their goals.

Visitors can write for advice, drop into the chat rooms, contribute to a “you speak” section, or check out the advice pages. With more and more young people saying “yes” to abstinence until marriage, Green wanted to provide an accessible support system.

It all goes back to being accountable to God and to others. And not being ashamed to show it. With or without a green bear on your head.

 

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